Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ozzie Guillen's Pro-Castro Speech Is Not Free

Peter Angelos, Fidel Castro and Bud Selig at the ball park
Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Miami Marlins, was suspended for five games without pay for having the audacity to tell a Time Magazine reporter that he admired and respected Fidel Castro.  This is not a popular sentiment in this country and was guaranteed to offend many Cuban-Americans who live in Miami.  Guillen, an American citizen, originally from Venezuela, has since apologized profusely and attempted to clarify his remarks. 

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig felt compelled to add his two cents, expressing support for the suspension and asserting that "Guillen's remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game."

This is not a First Amendment issue.  The First Amendment prohibits the government -- not businesses -- from interfering with free speech.  Nevertheless, it does seem rather remarkable that Guillen is being punished for merely expressing an unpopular opinion.  (Guillen didn't say anything about supporting Castro's policies but only that he respected him because "a lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that son of a b—— is still here.”)

Such treatment is particularly ironic, as Matthew Rothschild points out, given "that critics of Castro stress Fidel’s own intolerance of dissent."  And even more ironic given that Commissioner Bud Selig, along with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, went to a game with Castro, when the Orioles played in Cuba in 1999.   

It remains to be seen whether the five-day suspension will be enough to assuage the Marlin fans, many of whom are calling for Guillen's resignation.  The New York Times aptly concludes in its editorial that "the Marlins may legally, be within their legal rights, but they should have thought harder before succumbing to the cries of a mob and punishing a political statement for business reasons."

Amazingly, as Rothschild states, more than five decades since Castro took power, "red-baiting is still a dangerous sport in America."  Or at least in South Florida.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it's accurate to say Guillen is a victim of red-baiting (accusing someone of being or sympathizing with communists). Guillen said that he "respected" Castro because of his longevity in power (as a communist dictator). Certainly, he did not say he loved or respected Castro generally, nor that he loved or respected communism or dictators. Is there a distinction between "overtly displaying sympathy for" someone who is reviled in a particular community vs. "cavalierly displaying a lack of aversion toward, and an element of respect for" that person? That's a pretty fine, intellectual line to draw for a hotly emotional topic. Guillen said what he said to a reporter, on the record, in the heart of Little Havana. Now I give you the inevitable (but apt, I say!) Nazi comparison: If the manager of the Cubs said he respected Hitler for his longevity in power, and said it on the record while talking to a reporter in Skokie, would it be accurate to label the ensuing outcry from the community as "Nazi-baiting"? Personally, I don't think so. If you label the criticism of Guillen as "red-baiting" then you're lowering the bar on red-baiting too far.

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